What makes you different or weird, that’s your strength. – Meryl Streep
It was a damp night. I had to wipe down the inside wall of the alicoop as a few drips fell on my face. I was warm enough, but after dark, I rubbed in some muscle relaxant into my left shoulder. Do you think bears like camphor?
Three campers joined me in the rain. I never came out except once to pee. Maybe I was mean asking Gravity if he snores? He camped a good distance from me.
The rain let up enough to pack up and shove off bundled up in wet weather gear. The mountains are still lovely under the fog, white fingers reaching out. That odd bird whistled as I walked, almost like a siren. I lose the trail at a blowdown, sidling a steep hillside Te Araroa style. Certain I’m wrong, I come all the way back and join the right one.
A couple bounces down towards me, the man refusing to yield to the uphill. “Where’d you camp?” he asks, angrily. I realize they must have had a bad night. I stop for coffee in a beautiful bowl, water gurgling all around me. It’s chilly, but dry for the moment.
Last night, the men headed on as it started to rain, saying they had to make miles. I feel a small amount of panic I won’t get out of here, but realize I have plenty of food and feel strong. I do think pushing enormous days may not be the wisest thing. I’d love to see Laura again. She is likely only a few miles behind. Alone is good and important, but friends help too.
When I returned home from New Zealand and my job was eliminated, I couldn’t think of one good reason I had taken a leave of absence. The entire adventure evaporated and made no sense at all. A few friends I told about my job reminded me I knew the risk. I spoke openly about needing a leave and not having a guarantee when I returned. I was honest about my fears and uncertainty. But somehow I needed to find out what was inside me, what I was capable of, what was out there besides my own parochial life in Saint Paul. I imagine had I not gone, there was still a risk I would be let go because of the budget, and then what? I would have always wondered why I hadn’t gone for it.
We all applaud – and envy – those who risk and do incredible things outside the norm. Yet, when they return to failure, ambiguity, confusion – and for me personally, a kind of chaos – we tell them they wanted too much, they pushed too hard, they were too demanding.
And why not want a lot? We only have this life. I thought I was good at my work and I could live a full life in tandem. Sitting here in this lovely place, the sun just peaking out, I think I might just go ahead and decide it was worth the risk. Perhaps my kind of person is not valued there. But I can still value her even if she was rejected.
I start to cry just as Callum walks by. Such a gentle soul, also wet and cold, but pressing on. I feel courageous now so pack up and move on.
The trail is easy for a while, my feet in sneakers feel so close to the ground, especially when on soft pine needles. First, the trail goes down through thick raspberry bushes to a rushing river. Everything feels huge here – and dangerous. At this crossing, I see Callum from a distance, slowly working his way down, then up. It makes no sense until I arrive at the bridge which is folded in half, water rushing through the middle. Needless-to-say, I cross very carefully.
The next section is through dense forest, the trail sometimes a stream itself, squishy, wet, impossible to stay dry. I cross streams on pieces of wood half underwater, then later I carefully use a log over a fast rushing creek. I am so proud when I inch my way successfully across that. Scary, with some consequence should I fall.
Eventually I reach another torrent, light, dusty turquoise, cross it on a proper bridge with reinforced steel – I wonder how they get that here? – and it’s up switchbacks now for nearly 3,000 feet.
I run into Teen Dream getting water on the way and Ricky Bobby staying dry under some pine trees. It’s raining, cold and the trail is a river. Eventually I come out above the tree line and the view opens of mountains with long snow fingers. I cross several snow fields, carefully placing my foot in muddy prints and avoiding where the snow has given way around rocks and above rushing water. The snow is slippery and my feet hardly sink. I push through once, but only splash a puddle.
Up and up through this glorious moonscape of rock and snow. I lose the switchbacks, so simply head straight up, Te Araroa style.
At the top are three guys in a haze of pot smoke. They take my picture and I take theirs and we head off the pass right into the most dangerous snow fields yet.
I’ve been carrying my ice axe for days, but since the guys just hop on, I do too realizing I can’t afford a slip or it’s a massive fall with not much to stop me before I crash into a tree or rock.
I secure each foot into the step before me, ensuring I’m set, my trekking poles off my wrists with my hands holding low to the ground should I need to dig in. It’s only a few seconds to cross and not until I’m over that my heart starts to pound.
Just two sections and the rest is a grand balcony sidling with spectacular views – even in mist – and wildflowers covering the mountainside on the steepest incline.
Red and White Passes are said to be the hardest in snow with such steep slopes. I ask the guys to stay with me to the next pass and look anxiously for evidence of a difficult cross.
The guys fly down the mountain and I have to work to keep up. We reach a flat area with a possible tent sight and see two men coming our way. I ask them the conditions on the next pass and they tell me I’m standing on it.
I carried my ice axe 110 miles for two crossings, and didn’t even bother to use it! I guess one might call that ‘training.’
The sun comes out briefly, then disappears and it rains again. We tuck into a camp and make warm food. My feet are complete prunes. In the misty damp, I walk some more miles and finally set in a small grove of Douglas Fir, the branches covered with Spanish Moss. It’s a quick meal, then crawling into the alicoop to stay warm and dry and dream of better weather tomorrow.